Activating Prior Knowledge

As adult learners and veterans we have a framework of reference for life. It may seem easy to transfer the skills you learned in the military to civilian life problem solving but, how does this help us in the classroom?

If we know prior knowledge is important for learning, then one of the best tools at our disposal in any new learning project is self-assessing prior knowledge.

Before we begin, we want to start by asking ourselves two essential questions, what are we trying to learn, and what do we already know? You may also feel that disconnect in the classroom. As veterans you are natural leaders in any situation you find yourselves. It can be difficult to feel like a leader in a room of people that you perceive to know more about the subject being discussed. It’s helpful to ask yourself “What will my professor expect me to know when I show up in class in terms of facts and background information, but also in terms of the skills and techniques that are used in the field of study?

The other reason assessing prior knowledge is helpful is just because it forces us to retrieve what we already know. And it reminds us of the connections and associations that are already at our disposal. Consciously taking the time to inventory what we know that’s related primes our brains to make connections as we take in that information. And so it helps us distinguish what’s new and important from what’s already familiar as we go through the lecture and readings, right?

The effect of this regular self-assessment and this effort to connect new ideas to prior knowledge is to foster what’s called conceptual learning. If we learn by connecting information to what we already know, then the more connections we can make, the better we’ll be able to hold onto that information. By asking ourselves questions about how ideas connect, we force ourselves to think consciously about those conceptual connections to tell ourselves stories, to draw ourselves maps of how ideas fit together.

If we take the time to ask these questions, we can use our understanding of the importance of prior knowledge to set ourselves reasonable learning challenges and help our brains along in the process of making connections that we know to be essential for deep learning.

Source information from: Columbia University Center for Veteran Transition and Integration